Minding Animal Conference: Mexico City 2018
“You can taste the sweetness of the grass as you move your mandible from side to side…”
In my life, there have been several moments where I suddenly take stock of where I am and what I’m doing. This is one of those moments.
I’m in the auditorium at UNAM, the national public university in Mexico City. My shoes are off and I am on my hands and knees, imagining myself as a cow.
I’m chewing my cud, switching my tail, lounging in the grass with the rest of my “herd,” who are in actuality other human attendees of the 4th International Minding Animals Conference. We are all participating in the “Imagining Cow-Being” workshop and I’m finding that this conference is continuing to challenge me and expose me to new ideas in ways I could never have anticipated…including spending 30 minutes imagining myself as a cow.
The workshop is being led by Terry Hurtado, whom we would later learn is running for office in his home country of Columbia on an animal rights platform. This session is one of the more unconventional offerings at Minding Animals, a week-long conference that aims to bring together activists and scholars to discuss new ideas, philosophies and programs dedicated to improving the rights of non-human animals around the world. Other, more traditional sessions, were held in classrooms at the University, including presentations on animals and religion, feminism in animal rights, veterinary ethics, helping wildlife, photojournalism presentations, LGBTQA issues in animal rights, and even a lively presentation on Prince and his animal rights legacy.
The ideas discussed may be eccentric at times, but they are also progressive and inspiring, igniting intelligent debate and conversation around how we, as humans, can help ensure that other sentient beings are treated fairly in an environment that has been taken over, and irreversibly altered, by human animals.
Many of the ideas are new to me, as this is my first animal rights conference and the first time that I have been exposed to much of this material. Each day I find myself being challenged, as philosophies that I had always taken for granted (ie: the idea that humans are naturally on top of the dominance hierarchy) were turned upside down, introducing me to a world in which exists enough room for all animals to live together, human and non-human alike.
Over the course of the week, we were afforded the opportunity to hear talks from some of the leading scholars in many fields of study, and were introduced to work being done for animals across many disciplines. Our own Founder and Director, Emma Clifford, spoke on the field programs that we have established in the Galapagos and the social change that occurred as a result of Animal Balance’s work in the area. We were able to discuss ideas one-on-one with other participants over vegan lunches in the courtyard, and engage in thought-provoking debates when presented with the opportunity to share an opposing idea.
The fact that the conference was held in Mexico City added another level of depth to the for of us in some way. It was the childhood home of one member of our team, and offered opportunities to explore art, culture, history and culinary delights (roasted yams and bananas with strawberry jam from a street cart!) that enhanced the experience. And, not to be ignored, with Mexico being the epicenter of a national and worldwide debate on inclusion/exclusion of humans, it was an appropriate place to carry on conversations about considering the importance of the lives of all beings as we navigate our complicated world.
Animal Balance has a history of dropping me into these situations, creating these magical moments that are both so simple and life-changing at the same time.
For instance, there was the time that I found myself in American Samoa, talking to a man named Samoa about his 1986 trip to the Super Bowl, playing for the Cincinnati Bengals. Incidentally, our team trapped about 20 cats on his property and successfully neutered and returned them.
I have been challenged with setting up a MASH clinic in some of the most unlikely locations (carports, jungle clearings, a living room).
But, we will never know our limits if we don’t continue to stretch them, right?
Would I have imagined that a simple guided cow meditation would have such an impact on me? No, probably not.
But in the end, it made me realize the number of ways my work in this field has helped me to grow as a human animal, to think about the world we live in in a different way…in a hundred different ways. I can step out of my comfort zone, into the body of a cow, to have a conversation with a football player, dance the merengue (poorly) in a local bar in the Dominican Republic, all while spreading the same message of compassion, kindness, and inclusion that we bring with us everywhere as representatives of Animal Balance.
We are all the cow, the cat, the island dog…we are all just sentient beings trying to share space on this planet. In order for this to work, we all need to push ourselves out of our comfort zones just a little bit, become the other, to see that we’re all really just one and the same.